Matthew 25:31-33 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
In this remarkable parable (the last in Matthew’s gospel) Jesus provides a vivid account of the final judgment. The only two categories are sheep and goats, true believers and unbelievers. Everyone is present in one group or the other. You might see someone you love in the other group, but there is no crossing over—that time is past. The tension is overwhelming as both groups wait for the King’s pronouncement.
Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me (Matthew 25:34-35).
These are wonderful words, of course, but the righteous fear there has been a mistake, since they do not recall caring for Christ in this way. Then The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40).
Jesus’ brothers and sisters are those who put their faith in him. Jesus is not ashamed to call [us] brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11), says Hebrews. Our brother is the king, and we are part of his royal family. Whenever we are kind to other believers, we are being kind to him. This has important implications for the church.
A friend of mine was pastoring a new church, and shared a problem he was having. One of their attenders did not fit in very well, due to mental illness. He rarely bathed, and others kept their distance. I told my friend to be very careful, because the man was probably Jesus in disguise. Whatever we do for the least of his brothers and sisters, we do for him.
Matthew 25:41-43 Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.
The wicked are also surprised by Jesus’ pronouncement, since they do not remember neglecting him. But even if they went to church, they never cared enough for God’s people to lend a helping hand to anyone. By neglecting Jesus’ brothers and sisters, they also neglected Christ.
This doesn’t suggest that Christians should not care for people outside the faith. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors (Matthew 19:19), regardless of their religion. But needy believers ought to be our first concern. [L]et us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10), wrote Paul.
Matthew 25:46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
The wicked and the righteous have this in common: both will exist forever. Since everyone is made in the image of God, and God is eternal, we will never cease to be. There was a time when we were not, but there will never be a time when we are not. This is why it is so important to know where we are going.
A man was stranded on a barren planet, and all he had were two small pills. One would bring him instant death; the other would make him live forever. His life was so miserable that he decided to end it by eating the pill of death. But several minutes later, he discovered that he ate the wrong pill. One of the best words in heaven, and the worst in hell, is eternal. The purpose of here and now is to get ready for there and then.
Reflection and Review
Why should we treat fellow Christians well?
Why do most people sense that they will live forever?
How does eternity affect the way you live?